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Are new homes getting squeezed?

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Developers are being squeezed between rising building costs and cash-strapped homebuyers. The result is a steady drop in size and comfort of some new South African homes.

Bernadine from Gauteng wrote to John Graham of HouseCheck:

I bought a townhouse last year off-plan. The building is almost ready for occupation. When I went to see the building I noticed that the kitchen had no windows. There is a garage in the unit. The garage door leads into the kitchen. I queried this with the agent who said that the garage door can be left open and used as a means of ventilation. I did not agree with this since the door opens into the kitchen. The kitchen is too small to allow for me to work in the kitchen while the door is open.

I raised this with the agents who then responded that the door in the lounge should be sufficient ventilation. I then asked them if their building specs comply with South African regulations. I did not get a clear response on this.

I have requested approved plans of the building since I am interested to know how the municipality approved such plans. The response I received from the seller is as follows:

Why the plans? Once we submit the occupation certificate it is deemed all of this has been complied with?

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HouseCheck took a look at the architect’s drawings (pictured) which show that the kitchens in this townhouse  complex are back-to-back and attached to the garage; therefore it’s not possible to include windows in the units’ kitchens. In fact, the only opening windows in the downstairs section of this townhouse are one small window in the guest toilet and another (also small) window in the lounge next to some sliding doors.

Hardly adequate ventilation for the kitchen – especially if you are grilling chops in the oven or making a smelly South African favourite like tripe and onions!

The agent’s suggestion that Bernadine could create ventilation in the kitchen by opening the garage doors does not make much sense. First of all, the drawings show that because of the tight size of the garage, the fire door has been made to open into the kitchen. Not only is this bad building practice (from a fire safety standpoint), but keeping this fire door open also takes up most available space in the kitchen. Fire doors between garages and dwellings should also be fitted with an automatic self-closing device.

Sadly for Bernadine, the agent and seller are probably right and Bernadine has been landed with a rather uncomfortable, but legal, new home. Here’s why:

  • A municipal building control officer will not issue a certificate of occupancy unless there are approved plans. Therefore, unless there was corruption involved, a check with the municipality should reveal approved plans.
  • The National Building Regulations (SANS 10400:0) dealing with ventilation and lighting do not require a domestic kitchen to have a window, so long as there is an adequate supply of air. Section 7:10 of SANS 10400:0 permits a supply of “borrowed air” from elsewhere in the dwelling, in the case of a domestic kitchen. “Borrowed air may be used in lieu of outside air and the system shall be capable of supplying the required quantity of air under conditions of intermittent use.” Table 2 of the regulations states that a domestic kitchen must have a supply of air measuring a minimum of 50 litres per second. The supply of borrowed air from the dining and living room in Bernadine’s unit would probably satisfy the regulations – though obviously this is not ideal from the occupant’s point of view.

Therefore it seems that Bernadine’s unit probably complies with the Deemed to Satisfy rules of the National Building Regulations. A check with the municipal department which approved the plans will probably confirm this.

I think what we are seeing is a gradual shrinking of living quality by architects and developers squeezed by rising building costs on the one hand, and cash-strapped homebuyers on the other.

Who is John Graham?

John Graham, founder and CEO of HouseCheck.

John Graham, founder and CEO of HouseCheck.

John Graham is a South African who has spent more than 30 years in the property industry. He has hands-on experience as a developer, investor, estate agent, home builder and property inspector. John is the founder and CEO of HouseCheck (www.housecheck.co.za) and the principal of the SA Home Inspection Training Academy (www.sahita.co.za). He is the author of a number of popular eBooks including: The South African Home Buyer’s GuideQuality Control for South African Home Building and The Complete Guide to South African Home Inspection.


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